Yesterday, the long-awaited report into Russian interference in our democracy was finally released, after the decision by Boris Johnson and his government to delay its publication for a whole nine months. The findings of the report are damning and extraordinary, and clearly show the lax approach of this government when handling national security and the systemic failure to equip our security services for the challenges they face.
For a decade, they have simply failed to take the threat of Russia seriously, and they have left a gaping hole in our defences – right at the time when we need to be alive to the threat to our democracy, our civil society, and our way of life. No wonder the Prime Minister was so eager to delay the report and see one of his allies elected chair of the intelligence and security committee.
The report is clear that the Russian government sees the UK as one of its top targets for espionage, and lays out a litany of hostile activities – from cyber warfare and interfering in democratic processes, to acts of violence on UK soil and illicit finance.
Despite this, the government failed to instruct the intelligence services to conduct an investigation into potential interference in key national elections, failed to give them the tools that they need to investigate hostile activity, and failed to give them the political leadership needed to protect the UK. This is unforgivable, and is in stark contrast to the US and their proactive approach to rooting out the threat to their presidential elections.
One of the key issues identified by the report has been the use of London as a major centre for housing Russian wealth, some of which is undoubtedly sourced through illicit means. The government’s recent Magnitsky regulations fail to follow the bold lead of our allies in Canada and the US by including corruption, along with human rights violations, as crimes that will lead to targeted sanctions on individuals and organisations. The report shows that this omission is unsustainable and needs to be revisited to clean up London’s reputation.
One of the promising parts of the report demonstrated the breadth of international solidarity the UK received following the heinous use of chemical weapons on UK soil in Salisbury, with countless countries expelling Russian officials and working with the UK to hold Russia to account. It is vital that this international solidarity is maintained and redoubled to tackle hostile actions against the UK and our allies.
The government now has the opportunity to make amends for its weak handling of the Russian threat. Legislation can be introduced that will clean up the murky dealings of business and politics. The government can allow our world-class security services to do their job by developing a strategic approach to our national security. Crucially, the government can work with our international allies to tackle our shared threats. Labour will work with them to keep our democracy safe. But we will not allow them to waste this opportunity.